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Student Contributions

Elizabeth Edwards
Upper Sixth
West Town

Lowering the compulsory school age to 14

Lowering the compulsory school age to 14

The former head of OFSTED, Sir Chris Woodhead, told The Times today that the school leaving age should be slashed to 14. He claimed this would give less academically inclined students the opportunity to learn a new trade. He stated that making education compulsory up to the age of 18 was a “recipe for disaster”.

He went on to add that "if a child at 14 has mastered basic literacy and numeracy, I would be very happy for that child to leave school and go into a combination of apprenticeship and further education, and a practical, hands-on, craft-based training that takes them through into a job".

He then went on to ask, "Does anybody seriously think these kids, who are truanting at 13, 14 are going to stay in school in a purposeful, meaningful way through to 18?”

He believes that the government’s proposal for children to stay in school up to the age of 18 has “more to do with massaging unemployment figures than the needs of the economy”.

Once again the controversial Sir Chris has certainly sparked debate by what he has said today. There are many arguments against him. Firstly children are too young to know what career path they want to take. At fourteen, children are more interested in what they’re doing on the weekend rather than what they’ll be doing in 10 years time. Therefore they’re unable to make a wise choice about whether to stay in school or go into specific training. Lowering the compulsory schooling age would further increase the high rates of unemployment in the UK as struggling businesses are highly unlikely to take child apprentices under their wing. Finally allowing children to leave school without important academic qualifications has been seen as a very old-fashioned and out-of-date point of view.

It would seem that the public are against what Woodhead is saying. In a survey of a thousand people, Taylor Nelson Sofres, found that just 12% thought 14 was an acceptable age to leave school and only if work-based training was automatically available. Whereas the majority, 60%, thought children should be allowed to leave school at 16 to find work or apprenticeships.

A response on BBC news said that “My brother in law is not academically minded and left school at 16 to train as a hairdresser. At 22 he opened his own successful business. He needed GCSE Maths and English there right off. He is a landlord and employer too and is only still young. He wouldn’t be without the variety of skills he earned at GCSE and is grateful for them now he’s in the real world earning a trade”.

Plus another 25% in the survey thought that the compulsory school age should be raised to 18. A reply on BBC news agreed saying that “Finnish children commonly leave school at the age of 19, most continuing in some form of tertiary education, thus providing the country with the educated workforce it needs. Putting 14 year olds to work in an increasingly complex world they haven’t been educated for gives me the shivers”.

However some people do agree with him. Allowing children, who are struggling in academia to work in hands-on, vocational workshops, will allow everyone to flourish. Another answer on the BBC website said, “This is such a sensible approach. I have long thought that many subjects at school are just too academic. We should aim to equip all children with basic life skills — literacy, numeracy etc for real things such as understanding mortgages. Those that have the aptitude for more can then study more academically. One size does not fit all”.

The present academic situation is compulsory to all and yet every child is different. If a child is weak at maths or literacy shouldn’t they be allowed to develop another vocational skill — in which they could be extremely gifted? Rather than face humiliation of failing in front of their peers at school. And the majority of children in this situation tend to flunk school. Why not prove their potential with an apprenticeship rather than let it waste away on street corners. Or if they do go to school, they rebel and disrupt classes. Allowing children to leave school at 14 and go into vocational training, would mean more resources can be dedicated to the students who want to learn. Every child should feel appreciated and valued. But in today’s educational system, only those who get high grades in their exams get the attention.

10 October 2011

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